Being a dad and being engaged to a wonderful man seems to suit Rufus Wainwright.
Same Same spoke to the acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter ahead of his Australian tour this September.
Ask Rufus Wainwright what inspired his latest album, Out of the Game, and his answer is disarmingly swift and candid: “Life and death, really. There are many shades of grey in between, but those are either end of the spectrum: life and death.”
It’s been a busy few years for Wainwright, one coloured by the many imperceptible shades of that spectrum he describes. The critically lauded musician and multi-instrumentalist has not only become an uncle and a father, but has also dealt with the death of his mother, folk music maven Kate McGarrigle, from a rare form of cancer in January 2010.
He concedes that her death hit him incredibly hard, but also says that “mixed in there, alongside the broken-heartedness, there was goodness, too. Greatness, even.”
The greatness to which he alludes undoubtedly includes his engagement to long-term boyfriend, German artistic director Jörn Weisbrodt, whom he plans to marry later this month, and the 2011 birth of his daughter, Viva Katherine, with long-time friend Lorca Cohen, the daughter of fellow Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen.
During those years, he also recorded and released perhaps the darkest album of his career to date, 2009’s All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, an intensely felt and deeply personal cycle of songs that he now describes, with a wry laugh as, “my obligatory dark night of the soul record.”
“My last album was arguably one the darkest of the decade… I wanted something different this time around.”
Somehow, too, he found the fortitude and inspiration to forge ahead with writing a contemporary opera called Prima Donna. Initially commissioned by New York’s revered Metropolitan Opera, it eventually premiered at the Manchester International Festival and went on to win a number of prestigious awards.
Wainwright, a self-described “opera tragic since I was a kid,” says that its conception, long gestation and eventual staging were the collective realisation of one of his most deeply cherished personal and professional dreams.
He returns to Australia for a string of shows in September, but is enjoying some rare downtime in a Swiss hotel when we speak. He’s in Montreux to perform at the city’s internationally famous yearly jazz festival and tells me early on that he’s “feeling rather chatty today!”
He laughs cheekily as he teasingly observes that he is “lucky enough to be overlooking Lake Geneva in the Alps while talking to a girl named Heidi. Didn’t I see you here yesterday, jamming out in the mountains somewhere?”
As our conversation reveals, this is typical Wainwright: thoughtful and articulate, but never hesitant to punctuate his observations with flashes of droll, wry humour.
Charming and talented he may be, but an indubitable part of that charm is his erudite, highly cerebral wit. He’s quick with a quip and they’re often sharply, acerbically funny.
In May, the 39-year-old released his seventh studio album, a lush and theatrical collection of songs shot through with myriad manifestations of what he describes as “an essentially pop sensibility.”
Having built his reputation as perhaps the finest musician of his generation crafting dense, ornate, intricate works of baroque pop, he says that he hungered for “something different this time around – something more upbeat and accessible, something that might even be seen as potentially radio friendly.”